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April 23, 2019

‘The Pink List’ Tells You Your Lok Sabha Candidate’s Views On Queer Issues

Text by Shubham Ladha

“Post the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the IPC, it’s important to keep the momentum going and realise that queer issues are political issues.”

In the last few decades, queer issues have found their way into the country’s mainstream political discourse. After years of petitioning by the LGBTQIA+ community, India’s Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), decriminalising homosexuality last year in July. Now, as the nation’s Lok Sabha (LS) elections are in full swing, 22-year-old Anish Gawande, director of the Dara Shikoh Fellowship, 24-year-old Smriti Deora, a graphic designer and 25-year-old Devina Buckshee, a journalist put together the Pink List India, earlier this month. The website and the Instagram page essentially act as a listing of the LS candidates that support LGBTQIA+ rights to help Indian voters get a clear picture of the issues that interest their candidates.

We speak to the trio about the purpose behind this initiative and what its future will be:

What inspired you to start this initiative?

Anish Gawande (AG): There’s a massive transformation underway in India’s queer political landscape today. Yet, there’s very little work that’s being done around cataloguing and archiving this transformation. As a queer Indian, I’m very invested in making sure that we capitalise on these changes. My academic work focused on tracking and theorising these changes. The Pink List focuses on using these changes to make a difference. This is the first step in understanding how to mobilise the discourse that surrounds us.

How did you research your data and find out what each candidates’ views are?

AG: Over three months, we extensively scoured mainstream media archives, particularly around the coverage of judgements relating to Section 377 on the IPC — the initial overturn in 2009 by the Delhi High Court, when it was set aside by India’s Supreme Court (SC) in 2013, and when it was finally read down by the SC in 2018 — and the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, in 2014. We also analysed the social media archives of all candidates and the LS debates.

What do you hope to achieve through this initiative?

AG: We’ve spent countless hours calling out homophobic politicians. And an equal number of hours celebrating the English-speaking, well-heeled candidates who support LGBTQIA+ rights. But real change will begin when we educate those who quietly come out as allies and when we help them improve their own queer politics. Change has to start at a grassroots level. 

Devina Buckshee (DB): It’s extremely important! Our politicians are the people’s representatives and Indian citizens are diverse and have diverse concerns. Post the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the IPC, it’s important to keep the momentum going and realise that queer issues are political issues. It’s vital to champion the politicians that do take up these causes as it encourages them to continue, it spurs other politicians to consider becoming allies and it mainstreams queer issues in our political discourse.

How do you bring pro-LGBTQIA+ individuals from marginalised communities to the forefront?

DB: Our list highlights candidates from all across all constituencies, and brings forth queer allies from smaller towns and rural areas to show that being queer or a queer supporter is not restricted to elite, urban circles. They are the real changemakers who will make a real difference on the ground. It’s important to drive home this point and showcase how queer politics are important to all of us across India, and marginalised, non-mainstream communities obviously have a stake in this too. These communities are often silenced or dismissed, but our research found that a lot of important, progressive changes are happing from the interiors. 

What was the reason behind classifying the politicians into four different categories? How does it help voters?

DB: There are varying levels of support expressed by the candidates. So, the Trailblazers are candidates who themselves identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and who are literally charting a new path for Indian politics. Changemakers are those who have actively taken steps to promote LGBTQIA+ rights, like Jay Panda, who introduced Tiruchi Siva’s progressive version of the transgender rights bill in the Lok Sabha. We also have Outspoken Allies, who have publicly expressed support in a pro-active way, and Allies who have quietly supported LGBTQIA+ rights through steps like supporting Shashi Tharoor’s bill to strike down Section 377. For the voters, this should help distil the candidates and gauge each ones individual output to the cause.

You’ve mentioned that, “Candidates who support LGBTQIA+ rights are not necessarily inclusive in other spheres.” So how does one remain objective?

DB: Voting is a personal political experience. For me, it is important to know that my elected candidates support the same issues I do. We thought this was an important archival project, to highlight allies, trans and intersex candidates who will make history if elected for this election cycle. This list is not an exhaustive guide on woke-ness. We’ve stuck to one important and oft-ignored category: LGBTQIA+ rights. But what remains unsaid is important — the other marginalised issues and oppressed identities across the gender, class, caste etc. spectrum. So this is step one. We want your help now to build the list, make it more diverse and inclusive.

AG: Absolutely. Because it’s also important to note that all those who support LGBTQIA+ rights are not necessarily inclusive in other spheres. In fact, the most concerning trend I’ve observed across this list is the number of politicians who are queer inclusive but incredibly problematic in their stances on caste, class, religion, and other vectors of marginalisation. But that’s the reality of queer politics in India today.

Will separating pro-LGBTQIA+ politicians from their political parties — which may or might not be supportive of the same cause — be helpful? How? 

AG: Given that most political parties have ambiguous, if not non-existent, stances on LGBTQIA+ issues, candidate-centric lists are the only way forward. For instance, the highest percentage of queer allies are from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) — which, as a party, is noncommittal on queer issues. There’s a need to identify candidates across parties supporting LGBTQIA+ issues and help them become better allies. 

How will you go on to “build a network of politicians across party lines to make queer issues a political imperative”?

AG: The Pink List needs to go offline. We hope to get these candidates in a room, get them to talk to each other, ensure that they get access to material that helps them refine their own queer politics. The long term goal is to create a queer caucus within the Lok Sabha that can fight for LGBTQIA+ issues. 

Since it’s been less than a year since the IPC struck down Section 377 of the IPC, decriminalising homosexuality, how important is this Lok Sabha election for the LGBTQIA+ community? 

AG: In 2013, the Supreme Court put Section 377 back on the statue books. We were told then that Parliament was our only solution. Had we not been blessed with a more progressive Supreme Court, Section 377 would still be law in India. That’s why this Lok Sabha election is important — because we cannot depend always on the courts to deliver justice. We have to hold our elected representatives accountable for safeguarding our rights. 

How has this initiative been received by the LGBTQIA+ community, here and abroad?

Smriti Deora (SD): We’re incredibly grateful for the overwhelming response our initiative has received. We have reached over 15,000 people via our Instagram page and website combined. We’ve focused primarily on detailed research and an aesthetically ‘shareable’ design, that has encouraged people all over India and the world to spread the word across social media. We’ve received hundreds of messages from various communities and platforms, from The Queer Muslim Project to It Gets Better India, encouraging us to keep going and also providing us with constructive feedback, so that we can constantly keep improving this platform.

How do you think this will inspire the LGBTQIA+ community to understand why it’s important to vote?

SD: This initiative has given us a platform to not only to educate citizens about pro LGBTQIA+ politicians, but has also given us a space to reiterate the importance of making an informed choice this election. Through our project, we have highlighted some leaders who the LGBTQIA+ can be inspired by and in turn hope other leaders can change their views related to queer and trans causes. 

AG: Out and proud Indians are digitally-present and incredibly driven. Our safe spaces have primarily existed online for several years — and it’s important to build upon those safe spaces to create digital communities that promote LGBTQIA+ causes across various spheres. Our fight does not end with Section 377 — and I’m sure that the raw energy that drove us to the streets in 2013 will drive us to polling booths in 2019.

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